4 Things You Don’t Know About Self Publishing Until You Do It

Thinking about embarking on self publishing a book on your own? Not sure what the experience is going to be like? This week I feature three of my hybrid authors who have self published projects or series.

There are a lot of factors to consider–How much you can do yourself vs. what you can hire someone to do? How do you get recognized? Will my genre be successful in the self publishing market?

Read on to get the inside scoop on writers making self publishing work for me.

From Rebecca Phillips, author of JUST YOU series

It surprised me how random an author’s success can be. You could spend a lot of time and money on promotion and only sell a handful of books. On the other hand, you could get really lucky and have a break-out hit without much promotion at all. It’s a big mystery.

From Kim Cano, author of ON THE INSIDE and more

Prior to self-publishing, I read every post on a popular self-publishing blog and decided to go for it. I knew there would be a lot of work involved, from writing a great story to finding/hiring an editor to marketing, but I was excited to start my career and saw it as a challenge.

Later on, I discovered most successful Indie authors were in the romance, thriller, and science fiction genre, and that only one, Darcie Chan, had a breakout hit in women’s literary fiction. Undeterred, I continued writing books I’d like to read and had some success along the way, with my first two women’s fiction novels hitting Amazon’s Top 100 several times. That said, it’s still tough to compete against big books in my genre with a limited marketing budget, but I continue to try.

From Caitlin Rantala, author of INDUSTRY DARLING

If someone thinks self-publishing is for them, I’d first say you should get involved in the writing community long before they publish their novel. Make friends! Read all the books! Join a writers blog! Create your own blog! It takes a village to publish a novel, even if you’re self-pubbing. So don’t be shy. Favorite people’s tweets, talk to them! Not only will you start to network, you’ll also meet some incredible people and incredible talent.

Second, you are your biggest advocate and you can’t be afraid to speak up and ask for things. Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of growing up in the writing community. Readers, authors and bloggers are some of my absolute favorite people and over the years I’ve watched this community be supportive, encouraging and uplifting of its own. And when INDUSTRY DARLING was published, I experienced this first hand–the trick with self-publishing though, is you have to speak up, you have to seek out opportunity. A month or so before my book was published, I shot out a few DM Twitter messages to a few author friends, asking if they would want to read an ARC of INDUSTRY DARLING and blurb it. Almost everyone I asked said they’d make the time and wanted to read it. 

Sometimes I’m told ‘no,’ but more often than not, I’m given the green light. The main thing I’ve learned in self-publishing is if you don’t care, no one else is going to care. It’s certainly time consuming, but if you believe in your work, it’s absolutely worth it.  

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8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers

typing fadeoutThere is a bounty of query letter writing advice on the web. I’ve written about it before too: The Biggest Query Letter Mistake, and How To Format Your Query.

However, here are some tips you might not have heard yet that will set your querying strategy apart from the rest.

Querying in 2015? Read 8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers:

1. There are no second chances. Send a query letter with an agent’s name misspelled and resend 5 minutes later? You might already be written off. We get so many queries that we’re always looking for reasons to say no (even though we’re looking for gems!). Sometimes there are easy no’s.

2. If you say you’ve been published we assume that means traditional. And if you don’t share the publisher, year, and maybe some sales information we’ll assume you’re pulling our leg.

3. Telling agents you’ve self published before doesn’t actually say anything. Anyone and their mother can self publish a book. Telling us you’ve self published a previous book doesn’t rub us the wrong way, it just doesn’t impact our decision at all. With the hundreds of queries we receive a week it’s something we see a lot and tend to brush off. Of course, if you’ve self published to much acclaim, that’s a different story. But a thousand copies isn’t a bestseller and doesn’t move the needle for us.

4. It’s okay to break the rules. There are guidelines for a reason. However, I’ll give you an example of when it’s okay to step out. Our agency doesn’t ask for sample material when you query. Just a query letter. So sometimes I’ll see writers paste in a couple pages into the bottom of the query email–even though we don’t ask for it–and it gives me a chance to read a bit before I decide to request more. I’m okay with that! The rules not to break are whether you can pitch more than one agent at the agency, follow up guidelines etc.

5. If we’re not confident you can pitch us your book, we’re not confident you can write a novel. I know, I know, writing a novel and writing a query are very different things. However, it’s expected of today’s writer to pitch themselves (to us, to publicists, to readers, to sales staff etc). If your query is long-winded and doesn’t pitch the plot but themes instead, we’re not convinced. Agents always want plot and stakes over themes.

6. For fiction writers, social media is not a deciding factor. Writers tend to freak out about the word platform. For good reason, it’s terrifying. “What do you mean I need to have a newsletter with a million subscribers?!”–is often the response I get. Relax fiction writers, you don’t need thousands of social media followers just to query. (Non fiction authors, the same does not apply to you. Get back to that blog.) Fiction always stands on its own, but a good following is never a bad thing! However, platform for fiction writers comes with time.

7. Referrals are under used. If you have a friend represented by an agent you think you might connect with ask for them to refer you. This type of network is often under used. Don’t be afraid to network with writers represented by agents and build up some trust. Get critique partners who have representation and work your way to agents. Having someone vouch for you is powerful and helps you avoid the slush.

8. Author bios can bring us in or push us away. Author bios that are abnormally long and reference experiences that don’t relate to the book you’re pitching can be a turn off. Author bios should include any affiliations that are relevant like SCBWI if you write kids books, or WFWA if you write women’s fiction. Author bios that reference books written over 15 years ago are not of use to the book you’re querying. If you don’t have much to say in your author bio it’s okay to say where you live, share your author website, and tell us that this is your debut novel. Don’t forget it’s okay to be a debut. And don’t forget to include a little something for us to relate to.

What does your idea of book success look like?

witanddelight.tumblr.comOne of the most challenging–but most helpful–things a writer can do before getting into the book business is deciding what success looks like to them.

This is a topic close to my heart because it’s all about being honest with yourself, making the most of your time and energy, and helping visualize where you want to be. For some people just getting a novel on paper is the whole point of writing. For others, it’s about getting an agent and that’s their first step of success. (Getting an agent means beating serious 1:2000 odds!) And I know some of you dream hard and won’t stop until you get your agent, editor submissions, publication offers, and book tour.

I’m a proponent of never stop dreaming. Only the ones who stick to their guns will have the gumption and strength to make it in this crazy, creative, subjective business. I can rattle off all the cliché quotes and you can plaster them above your work desk, but only those who internalize them will have the tenacity to achieve their idea of success–whatever it is.

Agents are here for one type of success: traditional publishing, foreign and subsidiary rights, and consultation on other paths, like digital publishing. If your idea of success is 100% creative control, an agent isn’t for you.

If your idea of success is writing a memoir for your family as a keepsake, an agent isn’t for you.

If your idea of success is self-publishing to great acclaim, an agent can only help in certain ways. We can help you pick a publicity and marketing company to assist you, and sell foreign and film rights. But an agent is there for the long haul.

And if your idea of success is writing one book, an agent isn’t for you. We invest a lot of time and energy in clients and are looking for authors that want a career.

If your idea of success is having an agent negotiate a contract–and that’s it–what you want is a contracts consultant, not an agent.

Agents are here to help our clients achieve long-term print and digital publishing success. And what success means to me and my clients is great publishing contracts, working with amazing editors, financial stability through writing (which takes years!), subrights expansion with foreign sales, an honest relationship with me, social media proficiency, and looking into the future for all the great digital opportunities that arise.

I’m not saying one type of success is better than another, what I am saying is that agents are here for one type of success and it’s a collaborative one.

And because it’s MLK Day here’s one inspirational quote:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – MLK

Q: Writing isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. What does success look like to YOU?

Is the self-publishing stigma gone?

Q: Are agents reluctant to represent someone who has already self-pubbed one book? – Mary K Plenzler

In my open call for questions to answer on my blog, Mary asked about agent perceptions of self-publishing.

There are two sides to this coin:

Agents cannot shop a self-pubbed book if it does not have massive sales. There is no way to prove to editors that they can do better with it if when it was available to the mass market it didn’t make a splash. And even if it does have massive sales sometimes traditional publishers don’t know if they even can get more sales so they bow out.

BUT, agents are open to representing authors who have self published before and are now seeking to be traditionally published with future books. In this case, we are looking for the same criteria as always: superb writing that we connect with and think we can represent well. Continue reading Is the self-publishing stigma gone?